Titanic (12)

Directed by James Cameron
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Kathy Bates

You can just imagine the scene in some producer's office. The shortest pitch in cinema history. In walks James Cameron whose hits include Aliens, The Terminator, T2 and True Lies. "One word," says Jim. "Titanic". Deal signed and sealed. The most successful action director around can virtually write his own cheque, and he does. $200 million later...a mega US hit. Relieved Producers wipe their sweaty browsa and smile nervously. "We knew all along that he could pull it off," they claim.
To get down to specifics, this mammoth 3 and a quarter hour film tells the story of the most famous ocean liner of all, the apparently unsinkable Titanic, that sank in 1912 with the loss of 1500 lives. However, Cameron sets up the story in human terms. We begin with actual footage of the wreck on the seabed, and a group of treasure hunters exploring the ruins. A news report brings a positively ancient survivor to their boat and she tells them her story. Flash back to 1912 and poor little rich girl Rose, boarding the Titanic with her aristocratic Momma(Fisher) and boorish fiance Cal.(Zane- is he the most dislikeable actor around?) Also hopping on at the last minute is American drifter Jack(DiCaprio). The two youngsters soon meet and fall in love despite class differences and the disapproval and anger from Momma and Cal. However, all this becomes moot when the ship hits THAT iceberg and the action starts.
If film making were like ice skating and points were awarded for technical merit and artistic impression, Titanic would definitely score about 56 out of 10 for technical merit. It is a masterpiece of the latest and best in film magic, and a fine example of what can be achieved with a budget the size of a small country's bank reserves. However, artistically I would not be so generous. There has been an incredible ammount of hype generated about Titanic and Oscar talk aplenty. Personally, I hope the Academy forget the frenzy and consider the lack of a decent script and rather uneven pacing.
Is film making an art form or an engineering feat? Probably somewhere in the middle- a craft, and the greatest feat is the recreation of the ship. Cameron had a 90% scale model set built, almost 800 feet long. The film certainly captures the sheer size and grandeur of the ship, and the sets and costumes etc are wonderfully authentic looking. The strongest section by far is the final hour or so when Cameron's ability as an action director shines. The drama and indeed the horror of the tragedy are masterfully filmed. The final scenes of the ship's bow rising up out of the water and the rapid sinking are quite breathtakingly good. Cameron also shows very touchingly the plight of the many who escaped drowning only to freeze in the cold Atlantic waters while waiting for rescue. This is as good as any of his other work. However, I do not feel the film as a whole is Cameron's greatest. The love story between the adolescent looking DiCaprio and the more mature looking Winslet is uneasy at best. DiCaprio is more Artful Dodger than romantic lead. And yet again, most of the English characters are portrayed as arrogant and pompous idiots, the Irish as warm hearted and full of common sense, while the heroes are American! Billy Zane is an odd choice. While DiCaprio is a teen star, Winslett the trendy young English actress, Zane has always been a ham, and plays another obnoxious pig. I was impressed with Frances Fisher (Clint Eastwood's ex-girlfriend), whose Maggie Smith-like looks and icy demeanor is beautifully peeled away in one of the best non-action scenes as Rose and her mother bemoan their situation- that is, Rose having to marry the horrid Cal for finacial security.
The story of the Titanic has always been a great one; the unsinkable ship sinks with such an appalling and needless loss of life, and Cameron has told the story well. One of the best compliments I can give, is that you barely notice the 3 hours. Just as the love story is getting a bit tired, the ship hits the iceberg, and the pace picks up again. I also liked Cameron's bookends of the present day salvage team searching the real wreck. A superb technical achievement and a very good film, just not a great one. In my opinion! 8/10.

January 1998

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